Staunton, February 28 – Despite discussions in Moscow, Kyiv and the West about what the Kremlin plans to do in Crime, Vladimir Putin’s plans for “separating Crimea from Ukraine” are “perfectly transparent” and are likely to go ahead if they are not blocked by some unexpected development, according to Leonid Radzikhovsky.
In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” the Moscow commentator says that Putin has based his plans on the following calculus. First, “it is obvious that the majority of the population of Crimea is psychologically completely ready” for this, the Crimean Tatars being the clear exception (ng.ru/blogs/leorad/krymskiy-plan-putina.php).
“Once a majority of a society WANTS to separate,” Radzikhovsky says, “then the mechanism of separation is obvious: a REFERENDUM” [stress here and below in the original). To set the stage, someone – and it’s “not important” whether these are Ukrainian Berkuts or Russian special forces – seizes the Crimean parliament and force it to call a referendum.
That body sets a date: May 24, which just happens to be the day before the elections of a new Ukrainian president. “It is clear that after the referendum in Crimea, practically NO ONE will vote for the president of a FOREIGN government of Ukraine. That is YOUR president, NOT OURS. OUR president is Putin.”
The Russian military provides cover for this with its “’unscheduled maneuvers’” and thus “without a single shot, in view of the OVERWHELMING superiority in numbers and technology,” it and Moscow wins The exercise ends on March 7, but “the lesson” has been delivered, and the Black Sea Fleet remains in place.
There is finally “the most delicate moment: the LEGAL one,” Radzikhovsky says. Moscow has twice signed on as a guarantor of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. How is it going to get around this? It turns out that Viktor Yanukovich provides the Russian government with just “the fig leaf” it needs.
Despite everything, the Moscow analyst says, “It turns out that he is the LEGITIMATE PRESIDENT, and the authorities in Kyiv are ILLEGITIMATE.” That means if Yanukovich says the referendum is legitimate, Moscow can argue that it is living up to its obligations – and he implies that many in the West will be unlikely to challenge that.
Indeed, Putin has already signaled that this is the way he plans to grow by his statement that “it is necessary to continue TO HELP Ukraine.”
But what about the US and NATO? According to Radzikhovsky, the Kremlin leader knows that these are “Russophobes, aggressors and enemies” who are constantly plotting against Russia. And he has managed to convince many in his own country and not only there that this is the case. In any case, they are unlikely to challenge Putin’s “Crimean plan” in a serious way.
That is because it will appear to be “WITHOUT FORCE ... will be practically a gift, and will easily SKIRT AROUND ‘international law.’” All of Russia will be “delighted,” the West will come to “recognize” the new reality, and at least most of the residents of Crimea will be “happy.”
What will Putin require for his “complete happiness?” The answer, Radzikhovsky points out, is “a great deal.” But no one wants to think about that or about the way that this Kremlin move on Crimea opens the way to other actions that many may not like but could find it harder and harder to oppose.